Jonathan C. Zaback, Chief Growth & Marketing Officer, Principal, Vaya, LLC
I have yet to meet a client that didn’t want some sort of work for free. With that said, it is up to all of you reading this to decline doing free work. Because the moment you decide to do free work you are cheapening both your personal brand and the brand of your business. And clients can smell blood in the water when you agree to free work. Because the moment you agree to do free work you are sending a message that you are desperate for the business.
Additionally, work should not start until a wire payment is confirmed and in the bank. A business relationship is not real until the money is in the bank. By doing this you set a strong precedent both with your clients and employees. You need to be confident and realize that if you are in the room and asked to do work that you have the right to be paid. Yes, we are all used to the idea that we need to earn our credibility, our expertise, and our reputation. But when you have a proven track record, get the money before you start the work.
Far too many people out there are either giving away their services for free or undervaluing themselves. Don’t short change yourself because you think people aren’t willing to pay. They are and they will if they see that you’re worth it. I am constantly investing in myself so that I can give my clients the absolute best. Additionally, time is money. So if I’m taking time from my busy schedule that could be better spent in other ways, I expect to be paid. Period.
If you have a problem asking for compensation, realize that the effect of not getting paid extends beyond you. What type of message am I sending my colleagues about how they should conduct themselves in the future or estimate their own worth? Of course, I’m not talking about charity and pro bono type work, which is an exception; I am talking about freely giving away our expertise that you’ve worked hard to build.
I highly recommend keeping it simple when declining. I feel the best way to bow out of free work without burning bridges is to simply just say “no.” Don’t have verbal diarrhea about the reasons or you will just come across as weak. I suggest something along the lines of, “I’m flattered that you’re seeking my advice (or services), but unfortunately I’m not taking on additional clients at the moment.” This way you are clearly declining the request, but you’re also assuming the best in people by responding to them as if they were seeking to be your client.
Doing free works takes your eye off the ball and the ultimate prize. By not being compensated for your work it means you are leaving money on the table somewhere else. It sets a bad precedent, will give you a bad reputation both internally and externally, and it will be very hard to rebound from the damage.